The Overlook with Matt Peiken

The Politics of Prosecution | Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams

April 01, 2024 Matt Peiken Episode 144
The Politics of Prosecution | Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
More Info
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
The Politics of Prosecution | Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams
Apr 01, 2024 Episode 144
Matt Peiken

LISTENERS: Have thoughts about this episode? Send them my way!

The Buncombe County District Attorney’s office prosecutes dozens of cases every week, from capital murder to trivial infractions. But DA Todd Williams seems at least a bit frustrated by the public’s lingering interest in what, on paper, resulted in guilty verdicts for misdemeanor trespassing. Some are holding up the charges as veiled attacks on freedom of the press.

Williams, in his 10th year helming the office, talks in depth with me about the charges leveled at two people who produce work for the online media outlet The Asheville Blade. That dovetails into a larger conversation about the news media and the conduct of journalists. We also talk about the importance of his department’s relationships within the Asheville Police and with judges, along with the application of prosecutorial discretion.

00:00 A Surprising Encounter at the Polls: DA's Political Involvement
01:45 Exploring the Political Nature of the District Attorney's Role
04:08 The Intricacies of Relationships in the Legal System
06:27 The Aston Park Case: Journalism, Law, and Public Perception
18:07 Navigating the Complexities of Journalism and Law Enforcement
21:15 The Evolution of Cannabis Laws and Prosecutorial Discretion
22:52 Reflecting on a Decade in Office: Changes and Challenges
25:28 The Relationship Between the DA's Office and APD
27:08 Embracing New Media and the Future of Court Systems

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

SPONSOR: Asheville City Soccer Club home games run through June 29 for the women's team and July 13 for the men's team at Greenwood Field on the UNC-Asheville campus.

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Show Notes Transcript

LISTENERS: Have thoughts about this episode? Send them my way!

The Buncombe County District Attorney’s office prosecutes dozens of cases every week, from capital murder to trivial infractions. But DA Todd Williams seems at least a bit frustrated by the public’s lingering interest in what, on paper, resulted in guilty verdicts for misdemeanor trespassing. Some are holding up the charges as veiled attacks on freedom of the press.

Williams, in his 10th year helming the office, talks in depth with me about the charges leveled at two people who produce work for the online media outlet The Asheville Blade. That dovetails into a larger conversation about the news media and the conduct of journalists. We also talk about the importance of his department’s relationships within the Asheville Police and with judges, along with the application of prosecutorial discretion.

00:00 A Surprising Encounter at the Polls: DA's Political Involvement
01:45 Exploring the Political Nature of the District Attorney's Role
04:08 The Intricacies of Relationships in the Legal System
06:27 The Aston Park Case: Journalism, Law, and Public Perception
18:07 Navigating the Complexities of Journalism and Law Enforcement
21:15 The Evolution of Cannabis Laws and Prosecutorial Discretion
22:52 Reflecting on a Decade in Office: Changes and Challenges
25:28 The Relationship Between the DA's Office and APD
27:08 Embracing New Media and the Future of Court Systems

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

SPONSOR: Asheville City Soccer Club home games run through June 29 for the women's team and July 13 for the men's team at Greenwood Field on the UNC-Asheville campus.

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Matt Peiken: Okay it was interesting when I ran into you at the poll, the voting place, and I was surprised To see you wearing a sticker for a judge candidate Meredith Pressley and that I Just didn't expect a district attorney to be campaigning or to take a voice in our political process And I wanted you to speak to that.

I was surprised by that. Is that Conventional for a district attorney to be campaigning for a judge or to show that you favor one candidate for a judge position over another. 

Todd Williams: As a citizen I have a First amendment right to you know express my perspective on that. I did put a sticker on and I was there to represent for Meredith Pressley, who served the office of district attorney for 16 years extremely well, and I think she'll be a very good district court judge. And her opponent Todd Lentz, I like very much too. I'll just go ahead and throw that out. He's a great guy, very experienced defense attorney in the community. But my allegiances lie with Meredith who served on my staff for almost 10 years now. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, I understand. But it just surprised me in your public role as district attorney, you're in a kind of a law enforcement position and you wouldn't want to think that, whether it's the police chief, county sheriff, District attorney that you have a cozy or not cozy relationship with a certain judge and that plays a role in How you conduct business?

Todd Williams: I'm absolutely confident that Meredith Pressley will be able to set aside any kind of. I did make a $250 contribution to her campaign. That's public record. But I didn't make any public endorsements. I didn't make any public statements.

Matt Peiken: I guess I wanted to talk about the larger topic of the political nature of your position, wherever it is, any district attorney who is an elected official, talk about how politics Plays into or how you try not to have it play into even though you are it is an elected position and You were there campaigning So you would think on the surface you would prefer to have one judge over another judge for whatever your reasons are. Talk about the public perception around that.

Todd Williams: My goal as district attorney is to always enforce the law And and last time we were here.

We talked a lot about the exercise exercise of discretion. We prosecute conduct. A judge evaluates the facts of the case. In district court, they serve as a judge and a jury. They assess the facts and the law and apply the facts to the law and decide guilt or innocence quite frequently if they're in the criminal court rotation.

And I will say, just to insert, Meredith Pressley will have to go to the family court. My office can't appear in front of her for a period of time. I think there's a regulation at least six months and it's very possible she might be elected and serve as a judge indefinitely in a role where she does not have contact with the district attorney's office.

So I know Ms. Pressley very well. I know that she can set aside those relationships just as In our role in the DA's office. We're evaluating the facts. We're not prosecuting politics. We're not prosecuting You know, we don't like your agenda, we don't like your facebook page. We're looking at What is the conduct, right?

And that's the same obligation that a judge owes. And, you know 

Matt Peiken: So why do you choose you specifically or any, why would any district attorney publicly endorse one judge over another as a candidate? 

Todd Williams: This was an open seat, right? If this were a question of incumbency that'd be different.

You know, if Mr Lentz had won, I spoke to Todd very frankly about it and I told him that I was gonna have limited involvement. And that I thought he would be a good judge, too. 

Matt Peiken: On the outside looking in, and you just said, people can put aside what your relationship is to adhere to the law and go by the facts in a case and whatever evidence is laid out, that's how a judge can look at things.

But, You can't help but think this is a business of relationships to some degree, you know, you and your colleagues in the district attorney's office and the defense attorneys go before the same judges regularly. You get to know them fairly well. How important are relationships between Your office and judges and even defense attorneys who you work with on every case, you're trying to reach agreements or pleas. How important are these relationships?

Todd Williams: There's certainly a range. I think that there are attorneys that, I would say that I, you know, have a very good personal relationship with and have supported my campaigns for district attorney in the past, but are some of the most difficult attorneys to work with in the forum of the courtroom.

From the outside looking in, a lot of folks think that it's an old boy thing. There's a relationship. I get the perception, but it's possible to have a good relationship with someone and also not forfeit and not concede a single, solitary thing in service or in tribute to something that's irrelevant to the disposition of a case. 

Matt Peiken: There isn't a situation where. Hey You gave me this in This certain case I will grant you this in this certain case like is there any if not a quid pro quo? Okay, i'm just putting that out there. I wonder if that's a perception. 

Todd Williams: That kind of thing. It would be absolutely Improper. I will tell you that, years ago, that kind of thing has come up where folks have in high dungeon kind of thrown down the glove and said I wouldn't have supported you if I noted it was going to come out like this, and it's sorry, I'm elected as district attorney and I would like to maintain that good positive relationship and your support.

But in this case, I can't consider those things. The evidence is here. The law is here. The victim needs justice. Yeah. And that's the way that goes. We can't sell ourselves. What, what's the old maxim? Once you do it once, it's easier the next time. 

Matt Peiken: We covered a lot in our last conversation. I listened back. I thought we covered a lot of ground and yet there's some things that are still open cases and there's things that are still happening. And I want to try to do a post script on some of the conversations that we started last time. The one case that was a hot topic at the time was the Aston Park case.

Sure. And while some of it has been quote settled, there's now still appeals. There's things ongoing with that case. And when I posed a question on an Asheville politics Facebook page stating, I'm going to be talking again with District Attorney Todd Williams, What would you like me to ask him? It was remarkable to me that the Aston Park case is still such a hot button topic for a number of people. And there's been some back and forth in the courts that a federal court judge Ruled not long ago that the activists have evidence supporting a suit that the city unlawfully banned them from city parks Based on the 1st and 14th amendment. 

Some people believe these trespassing charges are just a cover for trying to mute journalists who are policing the police in a way that it isn't desirable I'm just wondering if you can expound a little bit on why you chose to prosecute these cases. 

Todd Williams: I have to take great care because there are pending matters as you've just indicated where we are right now is the trespassing matters Have been concluded and Those cases involved two defendants named coit and bliss and They're now on appeal. I can talk pretty openly about those two cases. Everybody has their right to their day in court, and the state is obligated to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt. So we have the two trespassing cases. That's done. I can speak about those. 

Matt Peiken: So, matilda bliss and veronica Coit you said those trespassing charges are settled now that they were both found guilty of trespassing case was tried misdemeanor misdemeanor secondary trespassing right. To your knowledge, has your office prosecuted before this incident before the umbrella of the Aston Park charges? Have you ever prosecuted misdemeanor trespassing charges before? 

Todd Williams: Oh, absolutely. Okay, Yeah And so in that case there was a novel defense, you know posited That, we're reporters and as reporters, we have First Amendment protections to cover an event. And so you're right there on the line of, are you covering the event or are you violating the law? 

But I did upload Judge Davis order, which will answer all your questions about the defense and whether or not a First Amendment, privilege or protection might apply as a defense in this case.

There was plenty of hearing about that, plenty of evidence about that, and it was denied. And he wrote, I don't know, I'd say an eight or ten page order on it. 

Matt Peiken: What's your feelings on this? Because I'll tell you. 

Todd Williams: Time, place, and manner. Time, place, and manner. 

Matt Peiken: Let's talk about manner. If you're covering something, something's happening at a certain time and place. You as a journalist, you go there, it could be a midnight, it could be two in the morning, it could be in the afternoon, whatever, and if it's something you're interested in covering, that's the time and place. The manner is what I want to focus on. What made this manner of these two people representing Asheville blade, again, different? 

Todd Williams: We have to keep in mind that this event, and there's been a substantial transparency about this.

The body cams have been released. You can go to the Asheville YouTube channel and find the videos. They're in the park. The park is closed. The park is closed to everyone.

Matt Peiken: Yeah but okay, again, as a journalist, and I've worked my entire career in journalism, if you're there legitimately covering, when I say legitimately, objectively covering something, that you're there to witness, hey, there's police behavior here that somebody needs to be witnessing regardless of whether we've been told by police to leave, I think To maintain your integrity as a journalist you do what you can to put yourself in a position to witness that Even if it's going against Police orders because you may not trust that police have the public's interest at heart at that point.

My question and I was not there to see how Matilda bliss and Veronica Coit were conducting themselves. But the Asheville Blade has readily said they oppose police. There is an advocacy journalism happening That you mentioned a few minutes ago, where is the line?

And to me, the question is, when do you cross the line from journalist to advocate to a participant, being a participant? 

Todd Williams: That's not, those aren't issues that we were concerned with. Okay then if you're not mean, as a citizen, you can, we can all certainly ask those questions about the credibility of the news source and what, But that comes into play here.

No, the secondary trespassing is, the crime is remaining in a place where you're not permitted to remain. Okay. So that's it. So let me ask you that though. And the park was closed at a certain time. Yeah. And I have to say again APD was extremely professional that night.

You can look at the body cam footage. They made numerous requests for everyone to leave And there wasn't, you know any Excessive use of force there wasn't APD themselves weren't they were enforcing a generally applicable ordinance You know, and they've had problems Previous in that park and others.

The mission is to preserve this public space for everyone's use and we can't identify what a person's politics or what a group's politics are, and then prosecute based on that. If we had the Ku Klux Klan or someone do something similarly, the community would say We want those folks jailed immediately I mean because Asheville is in terms of its politics where it is, so we can't create a precedent, because then we're looking at selective prosecution We're looking at other questions about the DA's office downstream. 

Matt Peiken: I totally understand that but let's say okay. So I as a journalist I notice police they're removing People from the park.

Todd Williams: So here's, here's an answer. Police do put up crime scene tape here, right? But a journalist hears about a shooting or whatever in a certain place. The crime scene tape is up to preserve the crime scene, right? Now, it's not totally applicable and it's in the analogy to the park, but the park is closed.

The perimeter of the park, It's closed, but you can see into the park from the perimeter, right? So 

Matt Peiken: to a degree, to a degree, let's just say you're, it's not a close vantage and you can't hear what's happening, 

Todd Williams: right? So I don't know precisely where this, the subject was an encampment that night.

But I think, but you get into where the tents were sent up. I don't know. I don't know how close that the sidewalk was. I don't have the answers to those things. I'd have to go back and look at the body cam too. Again there's a lot of transparency that people could look at. 

Matt Peiken: I understand that, but again, time, place and manner, and I would think manner is wholly relevant here because. Let's say, now I would have certainly, from what I could tell from what body cam footage I saw, I would have conducted myself somewhat differently than the people representing the Asheville Blade did.

What I would have done is said to the police, look, I know you're trying to clear the camp. I know you're trying to clear the park. I need to Just be here witnessing can I be behind you? Can I be along with you behind you as you do this and to distance myself from the people who are being removed but being up close. Now if the police had still said we don't want you here That's where the problem is and I would think let's say I were arrested at that point because I did not follow the police's orders I do have a First Amendment and 14th, I have a 14th Amendment right to witness and be, a member of the press, but I'm being told by law enforcement that I'm in violation of a of a curfew that, and the police telling people 

Todd Williams: it's not a curfew. It's the park is closed after a certain, an owner has the right to exclude persons from their property and you know The maintenance of the park requires that the park be closed for a period of time. That's a again a community Level decision that has been made. 

Matt Peiken: I am not debating that. I am saying that in this instance when police are called in to or for whatever reason they are there to remove people from the park that witnessing police behavior, there is a role there for the press and it's constitutionally protected. I guess I want to come to your office and ask where do you choose?

Yeah, not this specific case necessarily, but when are press? Responsibly doing their job and the police still don't want you there, Where do you come in say we're not going to prosecute this or we are? 

Todd Williams: So yeah, so now we're getting back to the question of discretion. And the question comes back to how good are the facts?

Again, APD, if they were high handed heavy handed used excessive force were anything less than The patient professionals that they evinced themselves to be that night. Maybe we would have had a situation where, we don't think that this case is fully triable in front of a Buncombe County jury.

And so that's, again, this case was it's fine to debate about it. I can talk about it now, but you know, we had 12 jurors hear the facts and see all the materials, see the body cam, hear from the officers themselves. And I can't recall whether or not Coit and Bliss testified, but potentially hear from them as well. And so all that was weighed and they were found beyond a reasonable doubt to be You know trespassing.

And so again hey officer i'm with the press. I want to just stand over here and observe. i'm You know not going to get in your way at all, i'm not going to obstruct i'm not here for that purpose. Can we work a deal? If the officer says no I don't know who you are. Other officers might say, this guy could be a security issue.

At some point, it's like how credible are those claims? In our discretion, we might say the officers are using as a pretext and the evidence might not be good enough to present to a jury and we might not prosecute that. So again, you've heard the expression, lawyers don't like hypotheticals, right?

So we're chasing rabbits. But in this case, as the facts were presented, APD behaved very professionally, very well. You have questions as a journalist about how the Blade reporters behaved, right? So we presented the case and a jury came back guilty on that.

Matt Peiken: When you come to questions of discretion in general, are those questions always about, do we have enough evidence here to prosecute? Is that the sole element of discretion? Talk about what else you weigh. 

Todd Williams: No. We talked about this last time and I appreciate this question greatly because like speeding tickets, we generally have very good evidence to show that somebody was, we generally give reductions.

If you, if Matt Peiken, sorry to personalize it, but if someone named Matt had a speeding ticket in a clean driving history, we might just say hey matt slow down, we'll dismiss this We'll give you we'll give you a freebie on this one. Drug treatment court, We run drug diversion programs.

We have good evidence in those cases, right? So it's not just that. It's trying to achieve the, the aims of justice and trying to get justice case by case. And I will say that the Coit and Bliss cases are done long before the trial.

We invited those defendants to do some volunteer work, some clean up a park. Right and all those offers were rejected out of hand. We exercise discretion to try to seek a disposition short of guilty verdicts in that 

Matt Peiken: case. 

This isn't something you can necessarily comment on or this is gets to the more the journalism element. I don't like that we're in an era where When anyone can say they're a journalist, if they have a phone that can film, if they are there as a witness, I am a journalist. If they have a blog, whatever their outlet is. I am not saying the Asheville Blade in particular is that. They have been around a while. And I don't know the answer to this.

I literally do not know where the line of demarcation is between who can legitimately call themselves a journalist and who can't for the sake of being out in the public and trying to represent the public's interest in witnessing something. That said, And I'll get off the soapbox in this after I say this.

That was very interesting. I do think it denigrates journalism, denigrates the work of career journalists that anybody with an outlet can say they are a journalist no matter what their agenda is, no matter what their manner of how they Execute their job and gather information, and I think it hurts journalism and we're on an all time low in terms of trust for journalism right now. Public polling shows that I can't remember the percentage, but it's a Minority of people trust the media and I think that has a lot to do with it Now they expect the media to take sides and when you get to the Asheville blade, they are unabashed in taking sides In terms of the journalism they do. And I think that is part of the manner in which maybe this case, they sought their journalism. 

Todd Williams: So I don't want to talk about the Asheville Blade in particular, but journalism and journalists in, in general, there are acknowledged standards, when an individual says the Buncombe County DA x, Y, and Z, and they want to print that quote, I think a standard, a generally acknowledged standard is reach out to the Buncombe County DA for a response, right? So when you have professional standards that are known and understood, and I think there are some journalistic governing bodies that have promulgated best practices for journalists, you come to expect that. And, frankly, and I'm not talking about the Blade, I've been disappointed on numerous occasions to see an individual make a comment about a case or the DA's office or whatever their practice. And I learned about it after it's already run. 

If you had given me an opportunity to comment, I would have explained this, like 18, 24, 36 hours before I've noted that this thing's gone out. that I've, been able to provide the statement or comment and it gets plugged in on the website, but everybody's already seen the viral video or whatever else.

And it is very frustrating to be on the receiving end of that. 

Matt Peiken: You mentioned a little bit ago again, one of the themes we're talking about here is discretion. And I'm wondering if the seriousness of the charge at all plays a role in whether you choose to devote resources to it or not. And one of the things that has come up is prosecution of cannabis charges and drug related charges. I know last time we talked you talked a lot about diversion programs and other things that your office is working with including other agencies and non profits to help steer people away from being Prosecuted in court for do I have that right?

Am I saying that correctly? Yeah one of the questions came up was What's your stance now that cannabis the laws are evolving around the country, and where does your office stand in terms of cannabis related charges? 

Todd Williams: So so again, this is a case by case discretionary, consideration that we have. And the law in North Carolina is still what it is.

Personally, I would like to see them change the law and fully decriminalize it. It's still a class three misdemeanor. Think in my role as district attorney, I could have my personal views about that, but my official views are it's still against the law. And case by case, as cases are presented, we're going to make a decision to prosecute or not.

Matt Peiken: Based on? 

Todd Williams: Well, based on the evidence and in that hemp is legal, there's no smell test. There's no, I know when I see it kind of thing. They're extremely difficult to prosecute at this juncture. I will concede that publicly. So our priority is Dangerous street drugs and we all know what they are fentanyl and anything that fentanyl is put into which can be just about anything including sometimes cannabis. But we're prosecuting Increasingly the fentanyl and the dangerous street drugs that can take life. That's our priority.

Matt Peiken: You've been in office now for three terms, right? This 10 years. Yeah 10 years. So Are you trying to do things differently, philosophically, now, than you were when Maybe when you first came into office? I asked you something similar in our last conversation.

You brought up the death penalty a little bit but i'm just wondering if philosophically from a prosecutorial Vantage point if you're just coming about things differently now than you were maybe seven eight nine years ago. 

Todd Williams: Well, so the law in the community, the legal environment together with community is in evolution.

So the DA's office is compelled to evolve parallel to those other developments. I ran on expanding prosecutorial discretion, which was, we're going to operate more treatment courts. We're going to operate diversion programs. We're going to do those things.

A number of people said, as a progressive district attorney candidate who was at that time a capital defender, a career public defender, you should come out and make an express a declaration that you will not seek the death penalty. And I opted not to do that because I felt that it was inconsistent to say I'm gonna expand prosecutorial discretion over here, but I'm not going to use prosecutorial discretion in these other cases.

And so I have been public that, I'm against the death penalty, but in my official role, I will Exercise discretion and I will evaluate those cases on the merits. As soon as I was elected in 2015 or took office in 2015, about 10 weeks in, we had the case involving Robert Jason Owens and a married couple six month Pregnant mom to be went missing and then their human remains were found in his buck stove and it's just absolutely gruesome case.

We have prosecuted some cases. We have charged the death penalty. We have disposed of those cases short of the death penalty. And I'm sure there are plenty of people that disagree gravely with me on those things, no pun intended on grave, but I want to say we remain committed to prosecutorial independence, the use of prosecutorial discretion to achieve justice. We remain committed to operate treatment courts and diversion programs. I'd be more than happy to create new treatment courts and diversion programs if the resources avail themselves and it can be shown that they further the interest of justice.

I don't want to say that the office hasn't evolved, but the office does remain committed to it's it's the values as stated in 2014. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. I want to ask you about your relationship with APD. I know they've had a revolving door of chiefs and I'm wondering, Mike Lamb has been in this community a long time.

I'm sure you and your colleagues in the DA's office know him very well. We talked very beginning of this conversation about relationships. How important is a relationship with a particular police chief and their way of working in terms of the cases that come to you and how you work with them to prosecute cases?

Does it make a difference who the chief of police is? 

Todd Williams: Certainly it's always, a good thing to have a good relationship with an agency head. But again, it's case by case. It's the quality of the investigation. It's not the quality of the agency head. That's not necessarily always relevant.

Chief Zack was generally good to work with. He did make some statements that I was frustrated by in terms of the unhoused community and the prosecution or not of vagrancy crimes which I thought were Unfortunate and misleading to the community. But i'll just say That when you're working person to person with agency heads, the sheriff, mayor, you know What have you in the community other county commission, you just can't take things personally. I had a good relationship with dave zack he made some comments that I had to push back on and I went to the city manager on and some other things and provided to the press and There was a little bit of a flail x and a public squabble, but in the end it's hey I understand you're representing your agency. I'm representing mine. Let's get the work done today. That was yesterday and it's really incumbent on us all to, it's water off the duck's back and just keep it moving. 

Matt Peiken: Last thing I guess I want to ask you about, and I talked to you about this on our last conversation that the, your office Uses its own media channels, whether it's twitter and you're getting off of that or scaling that back But you're going to substack and I thought it was interesting that you while it's free that there's a Statement on there that you could pay to subscribe to the district attorneys.

Todd Williams: Sorry. I don't do this. I look Substack apparently anybody can access it free and it's on buncombeda.Org. And I don't know if that bug says, I guess that's Substack's business model. I'm not interested in having anybody pay. I wanted to get off Twitter because I'm concerned about frankly, the Hate speech that's on Twitter increasingly. I don't want to be on that platform so much. And Substack allows it's somewhat a professional looking interface. It seems to be good for press releases. And it also integrated the API. I'm not a techie, but it integrated well the website and I could show the feed on my website, which is what I wanted.

Can you believe I actually do this myself? I don't have a media person and yeah. And so Substack gave me an API. I don't even know what that is, that I could plug in on buncombeDA.Org and the feed from the Substack would appear there. 

Matt Peiken: Oh, I didn't know you did that yourself. 

Todd Williams: So, So when you look at the website and you say this thing is a piece of, just, it's almost all todd williams that's put that thing together. My intent is that I just want anybody who wants to read these things, to have access to them. 

It's interesting to getting back to the media. I released these press releases and. I talked to my assistants, I craft these things. I put sometimes very precise language in there to say what needs to be said, what I feel needs to be said, and then the media will then edit it for some other purpose to make it more readable or something. And they take out stuff that's you changed the meaning and now it doesn't mean what it said. 

Matt Peiken: Hey, reporters have that same problem with editors. We turn in stories to editors and they change the meaning. They change the words. So sometimes it might have our name on the story. We go, that's not how I put it. And we get in arguments with our editors all the time. So is there anything we haven't talked about that you will?

Todd Williams: I thought we were going to talk about e courts. Let's talk about it. I just said that I would start any program I would consider any sustainable new initiative that, furthers the aims of justice but I'll do that probably in 2025 because here in 2024 we are covered up with this transition from paper to this Electronic portal. That the administrative office of the courts, the administrative office of the courts governs the operation of courts in the state of North Carolina. We're unified court system. We're scattered around 100 counties. We have 100 clerks of court throughout the state. We have 43, I believe, maybe 44 district attorneys.

We have public defender offices and maybe again, I forget what the number is now. 20 30 40 40 districts across the state. We're all going to go from yes, a unified court system that does have some sort of state direction. But we operate within our counties the way we've always done it, right?

This is the way we've always done it. We don't do it the way they do it in Madison or Haywood County, necessarily. It's different over there. We're going to have this interface that the state has bought from Tyler Technologies imposed on us statewide. And AOC came to Buncombe County, and they said, A week or so ago and they said this is the biggest change in our court system 

Matt Peiken: Who what's this agency you said came? 

Todd Williams: Administrative office of the courts, okay? Folks from AOC in Raleigh came to Buncombe County and said we're here to help you transition as of July 22nd to e courts And this is the biggest transition in the court system since 1967 when they went from a local county court magistrate municipal judge type thing to statewide unification.

So it's the biggest thing since then. 

Matt Peiken: How does that functionally change the way you operate or where things go? 

Todd Williams: We're, we're waiting to see. The initial roll out In Wake County and Johnston County and Harnett counties, which is a large county, Wake County, a medium sized county, Johnston County, and then a small county, Harnett County, all in the center of the state, was not very successful.

There was a lot of latency issues. There's talk of this spinning wheel of death where, you pull an individual's name up and the system is non responsive. And when you're trying to deal with several hundred traffic citations, you can't wait 2 to 5 minutes to pull up a case.

There's a lawyer or group of lawyers who have alleged that this system has hurt their practices These folks are engaged in traffic law, and they'd like to do 50 to 100 traffic citations in whatever time frame, maybe a day. And now they're down to, they can only do a handful because the system is slow. 

Matt Peiken: So e courts, just to be clear, it's just a way of having uniform filing of cases statewide, that's what this is.

Todd Williams: It's virtual. It's going to be paperless. 

Matt Peiken: So you can you anybody can access the case files and pay fines this way, but it doesn't change the way the courts Operate, right? It doesn't change how cases are prosecuted or charged. 

Todd Williams: No, no Like discretion and all these other things No.

Matt Peiken: Is your office at full strength? Or do you have full staffing or are you guys short? 

Todd Williams: We, at, as of this date, March 26th. We're down technically two positions. We're losing one grant position In the next month or two, so we're not going to hire for that And the second one should be filled as of april 8th. So we're effectively fully staffed. 

I enjoy coming on your podcast again. I got a lot of good feedback. I think your podcast reaches people that I think are interested in hearing from for me, certainly and, other electeds. And anyway, I appreciate the opportunity.

Podcasts we love